Thanksgiving Sunday Yr C, 10/10/2004
Based on Deut 26:1-11
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly they darted toward the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn’t make it.
Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!”
John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life.”
“But you must,” implored his companion. “The bull is catching up to us.”
“All right,” panted John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: ‘O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.’”
Although this little story is only a joke, nonetheless is carries with it an instructive theological message for us—namely, it is good to give God our thanks for everything. As we celebrate this Thanksgiving Sunday, we are reminded again of the importance of showing our appreciation and gratitude to God for the gift of life and providing our needs.
The Hebrew word for thanksgiving is “yadaw.” It is often used in the Hebrew Bible interchangeably to mean praise and confess. When we are thanking God, we are also praising and confessing God. Therefore, our first lesson today is a very appropriate one for Thanksgiving Sunday.
The lesson consists of instructions for celebrating the harvest festival, referred to elsewhere as the Feast or Festival of Weeks (Exod 34:22, Num 28:26), and involves, in particular, offering of the first fruit harvested from the land. In keeping with the meaning of the Hebrew word for thanksgiving, this offering of the first fruit harvested from the land is set in the context of worshipping the LORD. To give thanks and praise, to confess one’s faith is to participate in the act of worshipping God. According to our passage, this harvest festival was to be observed once the Israelites were settled in the Promised Land. It was a reminder to them that the LORD had honoured his covenant with Israel by giving them the land. Along with this, it was a reminder that God also blessed the land by making it fertile and giving his people a bountiful harvest. It was the LORD God who created the land, gave the land to his people, but also gave it life.
Once the offering was presented to the priest, then the people made their public confession of faith. In this public confession of faith, they recited a portion of Israel’s salvation history. “A wandering Aramean” is a reference to Jacob, and later, his family during the time when Joseph was Prime Minister of Egypt and the Israelites prospered. Then the confession moves to the time when the Israelites were living as slaves and oppressed by the Egyptians. In their cries to God for help, the LORD responded and delivered the Israelites from their Egyptian slavery—giving them the Promised Land. In remembering this saving history, the Israelites remembered that it was God alone who delivered them and blessed them with freedom, land and a livelihood.
After offering their first fruits and making public confession of their faith, the Israelites were instructed to share their bounty with the Levites and the resident aliens. Both the Levites and the resident aliens did not have property; hence the Israelites were to share their wealth and bounty with those who had no means of making a living from the land.
We, like ancient Israel, need to remember our God and what he has done for us, as well as what he continues to do for us. In remembering we, like Israel come before the LORD to worship him alone; to offer our thanksgiving, praise and confession of faith; along with our offerings and tithes for the work of his Church. We, like ancient Israel, are a blessed people—hence we too are called on to help out and care for the poor and needy in our midst. Yet, I wonder if it is easier for people to complain to God than it is to give God thanks.
It was harvest time, but when the minister called on a local farmer he was met with a lot of grumbles. The farmer made it clear that he didn’t think he had anything to thank God for.
The minister listened quietly and then went away. The next day he went round borrowing plates here and there until he had collected 365. He took them to the farm and arranged them around the kitchen. When the farmer came in from the fields he was amazed at the huge display.
“Yes,” said the minister, “there are a lot of plates, aren’t there? In fact, there’s one for each dinner you have eaten during the past year.”
“It was his way of showing the farmer that he did indeed have much to be grateful for. 1
Sometimes, as the story shows, when we gripe and complain we can be blinded from seeing how well off we are and fail to thank God for what we’ve been given. It is once our eyes and hearts are opened and we see that God blesses us year round; then we can respond with thanksgiving. We can learn to give thanks to God and others who have helped and loved us, as the following story underscores.
It was a cold winter’s night and Mrs. Miller had just come out of the hospital. It was lovely to be at her own fireside again and she was happy just to sit in the glow of the flames.
Then the bell rang and standing at the door was a message boy holding out a lovely azalea. Eagerly she looked at the small card attached to the wrapping. It said simply: “With good wishes and deep gratitude from J.C.C.”
Now J.C.C. was one of the best-liked shopkeepers in town. But why, she wondered had he sent her such a lovely gift? It was several days later before she could thank him.
“Well I heard you had been in hospital,” he said, “I just wanted you to know that I still remembered all that you did for me.”
8 years prior, he had been at the worst stage of what is now known as “a drink problem.” His friends had begun to shun him and his business was near ruin. Many a night she had seen him in the street and had helped him to his home while others crossed the street to avoid him. And it was she who had quietly persuaded him to take the course of treatment that had reshaped his life. Mrs. Miller could only stammer out: “But I did nothing really.” “You did everything” he said, “and I can’t forget it. You didn’t know me well, but you were a better friend to me than my friends.” 2
We never know how acts of loving-kindness can make a difference to others. As recipients of such acts of loving-kindness hearts and lives can be opened to respond with thanksgiving.
This Thanksgiving Sunday, may we, like ancient Israel, in deep gratitude offer God our first fruits of time, talents and treasures; realizing that the bounteous gifts we’ve been given come from God. May we too see how much our LORD provides us with each day of the year and, in response, always express our thanks, praise and confession of faith. In so doing, we, like ancient Israel, shall know that we cannot live without our most gracious God. Amen.
1 Cited from: F. Gay, The Friendship Book, 1990, meditation for September 10th.
2 Cited from: F. Gay, The Friendship Book, 1982, meditation for